Making People Uneasy Is My job

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:50

    I tapped past the post office and the funeral home and the McDonald's, past the spot where my ribs had been savaged by two ornery thugs, and came to rest at the next corner, waiting for the traffic to pass. I'd made it that far, at least. Just five blocks to go now.

    Just far enough to ensure the damnation of the devout, I thought, though I had no idea what I meant by that, or where I might've heard it before.

    "You need any help crossing the street?" the youngster's voice asked as he approached from the left.

    "No, no?I think I'll be okay. But thanks kindly anyway," I told him, as I tell most everyone who asks that question.

    There was a pause. I could tell he was still standing there, still staring at me. That's never a good sign. It always makes me nervous when I know people are there?that they're standing too close, looking at me, not saying anything, sizing me up toward some insidious end.

    "I'm homeless and hungry?" he said finally. "Do you think you could spare a little change so I could get sump'n to eat?"

    Oh Jesus Christ.

    "Yeah, well, and I'm blind," I shot back. "So I guess that means we're both fucked, doesn't it?"

    I do what I can to avoid pulling out that trump card, but sometimes it's the only thing to do when confronted with examples of bloodcurdling foolishness.

    Fact of the matter is, despite all I've written and talked about it, despite the fact that I now use the cane when forced to, the blindness remains my dirty secret, something I don't choose to make public if I don't have to. But, like most such things, it's a secret that's really no secret at all.

    The young beggar continued on his way, and I continued on mine.

    Several nights later, Morgan and I stopped into a restaurant after work. As the waitress led us past and between the narrowly spaced tables, I clung to Morgan's coat like a retarded child as I stumbled along, hoping I wouldn't whack anyone in the back of the head.

    When we finally reached our table, Morgan helped me feel my way around the chair and sat me down. Then she sat down herself, across from me. The waitress stood there, silently, holding our menus out, but not putting them down. At last, she leaned toward Morgan and whispered nervously, "Should I...leave two menus?"

    I said nothing, mostly because I hadn't heard her, but Morgan informed her that, if she were to slide the menu under the light toward me, everything would be okay. The waitress did that, then quickly vanished.

    "You always make people so uneasy," Morgan said with a sly grin. Coming from anyone else, it might've sounded like a scolding, but I knew better.

    "That's my job," I replied, "making people uneasy."

    And there is something to that. I pull out the cane and start tapping, I make people uneasy. I shuffle about without it, let my eyeballs roll around in their sockets, keep reaching for things that aren't there and make wildly inaccurate assumptions about my surroundings, I make people uneasy. Either way, I guess I win?uneasy people, as a rule, keep their distance.

    Point being, I suppose, that we all have our public secrets. Even Celine did, as I just discovered with the publication of Ballets Without Music, Without Dancers, Without Anything (Green Integer)?the first English translation of Celine's ballets.

    None of them was ever performed (at least in his lifetime?I can't say about afterward), but he kept writing them nonetheless, from just after he published Journey to the End of the Night until near the end of his life. Never had any music composed for them, but he kept writing them. And though I know nothing about ballet, even the introduction to the book admits that they're simply not very good. Still he kept writing them.

    My first response to discovering that was, "Well, it's kind of swishy, but good for him?he loved ballet, so he worked his black heart out trying to write them." But that thought was followed seconds later by, "Though if nothing happened with them, and he wasn't very good at it, why didn't he have the good sense to put that ridiculous notion behind him?"

    Of course that itself is a ridiculous question?most people involved in creative pursuits of any kind generally choose not to notice or admit that they no longer have anything to say, or aren't very good at what they're doing in the first place. That's why, to use a shopworn example, the Rolling Stones are still putting out musical records, why John Le Carre is still writing books and why Brian De Palma is still making movies. I'm generally of the opinion that most people involved in creative pursuits nowadays should reconsider.

    I'm willing to cut Celine a bit of slack, though?his ballets may not be the best ballets in the world (though I'm certainly no authority, and don't particularly care much)?but they're still interesting?if only for watching a man who spent so much of his life crackling with hatred trying?struggling, even?to write something overflowing with delicate beauty. Besides, they're funny as hell?the first ballet in the collection (and one of the last he wrote), Scandal in the Deep, opens with the line: "Neptune has finally wed Venus?even Gods can't screw around forever."

    So yes, I will forgive Celine for continuing to do something he wasn't very good at in a traditional sense, if only because he did it like no one else. For the rest of us, though?those of us still among the living?it's a question to take quite seriously.

    I certainly don't exclude myself from that batch of the guilty ones, either. The question sneaks up and wallops me a good one every few months. The desperation creeps in, the quiet sadness and cheap melancholy start hanging around, as I'm reminded of something Harry Crews said when I interviewed him a couple years ago: "I always thought that I'd be better than I am."

    Yes, well.

    Something usually comes along to kick me in the ass to jump-start me again, but until that happens the question of why I continue to do what I do sure as hell gets in the way. And while that's happening, I try to keep in mind another question?something another friend of mine said many, many years ago, but that still makes sense: "If there was no desperation, would we be alive?"

    While trying to focus my attention on that sentiment, but still whining to myself about my various lots in life, and wondering aloud if Grit was hiring, I found myself in another subway station, waiting for another train to come along to whisk me someplace new, when I heard the voice behind me, out by the token booth.

    "Shhhiiiit!" a man screamed.

    "What happened?" his companion asked him. (Logically, I thought.)

    "I twisted my fuckin' ankle!" the first man yelled to his friend, to the guy in the token booth and to everyone else on the platform at the time. "Right there! I twisted my fuckin' ankle! I'm gonna sue the fuckin' Transit?made me twist my fuckin' ankle!"

    The voice slowly disappeared down a passageway, away from me, screaming all the way, threatening lawsuit after lawsuit, despite the ease with which he seemed to be walking. Yeah, he was going to sue, all right. Sue everybody. And he'd probably win.

    Nope, I thought as I stood there, feeling something lift off me, if only for a few minutes I don't have any troubles at all.